And in the few moments left to them, they talked and cheered each other, as intimate friends on the eve of a long separation. They both knew now that they loved—but they also knew that they must part—and forever!
“I love you, Paul,” said Opal, “even as you love me. I do not hesitate to confess it again, because—well, I am not yet his wife. And I want to give you this one small comfort to help to make you strong to fight and conquer, and—endure!”
“But, Opal, you are the one woman in the world God meant for me! How can I face the world without you?”
“Better that you should, Paul, and keep on fancying yourself loving me always, than that you should have me for a wife, and then weary of me, as men do weary of their wives!”
“Oh, but you might, Boy. Most men do. It’s their nature, I suppose.”
“But it is not my nature, Opal, to grow tired of what I love. I am not capricious. Why should you think so?”
“But it’s human nature, Paul; there is no denying that. To think, Paul, that we could grow to clasp hands like this—that we could kiss—actually kiss, Paul, calmly, as women kiss each other—that we could ever rest in each other’s arms and grow weary!”
But Paul would not listen. He always would have loved her, always! He loved her, anyway, and always would, were she a thousand times the Countess de Roannes, but it was too late! too late!
“Always remember, Paul, wherever you are and whatever you do,” went on Opal, “that I love you. I know it now, and I know how much! Let the memory of it be an inspiration to you when your spirits flag, and a consolation when skies are gray, and—Paul—oh, I love you—love you—that’s all! Kiss me—just once—our last goodbye! There can be no harm in that, when it’s for the last time!”
And Paul, with a heart-breaking sob, clasped her in his arms and pressed his lips to hers as one kisses the face of his beloved dead. He wondered vaguely why he felt no passion—wondered at the utter languor of the senses that did not wake even as he pressed his lips to hers. It was not a woman’s body in his arms—but as the sexless form of one long dead and lost to him forever. It was not passion now—it was love, stripped of all sensuality, purged of all desire save the longing to endure.
It was the hour of love’s supremest triumph—renunciation!
Back in England again—England in the fall of the year—England in the autumn of life, for Sir Charles Verdayne was nearing his end. The Boy spent a few weeks at Verdayne Place, and then left to pay his first visit to his fiancee. Paul Verdayne was prevented by his father’s ill health from accompanying him to Austria, as had been the original plan.